One of the most difficult topics to discuss with clients is forgiveness. Mostly because many clients seem to have a distorted view of the purpose of forgiveness. As humans, we are created to be in community with one another, which means there will always be the risk of offending someone, and thus the need for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a process, but one must understand the purpose before beginning the process or they will not be able to complete it. Forgiveness is not for the offender, it is for the offended. It does not release the perpetrator from having to carry around the guilt they may feel, but it allows the person who was offended to be released from carrying the resentment they feel towards the perpetrator. There is a popular saying that, “carrying resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies”.
The most important part of the process is the first step. That is admitting to yourself that you have been hurt. It is ok to acknowledge when others have harmed us in some way. If no offense occurred, then forgiveness is not needed. The second step in the process is to recognize that the offense requires a payment of consequences. When someone breaks the law, they may have to pay a fine, or even go to jail. The first two steps are the easiest for most people to go through, but that’s where they usually stop.
After that, it takes a bit of maturity to work through the remaining steps. The third step is the pardon. This is not saying the person is not guilty, or deserving of the punishment, it is simply not enforcing the punishment. This is often the biggest hurdle to clear in the process.
The fourth step is committing to leave the offense in the past and not bring it up again. This is akin to double jeopardy in the criminal justice system. Once the trial is over, you can be tried for the same offense at a later date. This is what most couples do when arguing and they bring up past hurts.
The last step in the process is restoration. This means I work to heal the relationship back to the point before the offense occurred, and treat the person as if they offense never occurred. This does not mean I forget what happened, rather I choose to not let the offense define the relationship moving forward.
One last note, there are times when restoration of a relationship is not possible or even healthy. This is where I replace restoration with reconciliation. Reconciliation is an accounting term which equates to a zero sum balance. This just means that I hold nothing against that person moving forward, as if the debt is paid in full.
If you are having difficulty with forgiveness in your life, please contact one of our therapists for an appointment and we will be happy to work with you so you can move on with your best life.